Thursday, May 25, 2023

Historical Falsehoods about the Liturgy from George Weigel

In our conversations, Dr Kwasniewski has occasionally referred to liturgical discourse within the Church as something like a game of whack-a-mole. Every time a falsehood or series of falsehoods about the liturgy is refuted, more spring up to take its place. Case in point: no sooner does a book replying to the absurd claims of Drs Cavadini, Healy and Weinandy come out, than someone brings to my attention this video, in which George Weigel repeats several of the common falsehoods about the liturgy, which are no less false for being common.

Unfortunately, this is merely an excerpt of a much longer video in which a great deal more that is false but commonly believed about the liturgy is repeated, and I simply do not have time to write a refutation of all of it. There is more than enough to deal with in this span of less than six minutes.

– He begins by taking issue with the term “Mass of the Ages” used to describe the Traditional Latin Mass, and of course made especially popular of late by the on-going documentary series of that name. (In the longer video, Mr Weigel says that he hasn’t seen the documentary, which is hardly surprising.) He then makes the false claim that the Roman Rite was always “constantly evolving.” While it is true that many small adjustments were made to the liturgy, by far the largest portion of the material found in the Missal of St Pius V, (the order of the audible parts of the Mass, i.e. Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, etc., the chants, prayers and readings of the temporal cycle and the oldest Saints’ feasts, the Canon) are already fixed in their places in the earliest liturgical books of the Roman Rite.

– He goes on to say that the Missal of 1962 is not “the Missal that was used in the 12th century.” This ignores the fact that a very considerable amount of that same material found in the oldest books of the Roman Rite would in fact also be found in any Missal from either 1162, 1562, or 1962. (But of course, in defiance of the explicit commands of the Second Vatican Council, much of it is NOT found in the Missals of 1969 or 2002.)
Taking these two points together, no serious (or even casual) historian of the liturgy denies that changes and additions have been made to the liturgy, but to say that the Roman Rite was “constantly” evolving is a grotesque exaggeration.
The end of the Preface, the Sanctus (written in Greek letters), and the beginning of the Canon, in the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780 AD, one of the oldest surviving books of its kind.
– 0:28 “The changes in the Roman Rite began with Pope Pius XII, and specifically with the restoration of Holy Week to its proper form.” Almost nothing about the Holy Week reform of Pope Pius XII is a restoration, least of all the one aspect of it which he specifically mentions, the moving of the Easter vigil from one wrong time to another. (He later says that Pius XII “restored the more ancient liturgy of Holy Week”; assuming this to mean something more than the completely superficial adjustment of the timetable, namely, the revision of texts and rites, this is completely false. No aspect of these changes is a restoration of anything.)
– 1:00 “The Easter vigil used to be celebrated on Saturday morning.” While it is true that this was done for a very long time, it was not always done. There are plenty of ancient sources that clearly state that the Easter vigil was begun in the evening, as sunset approached, but Pius XII’s reform specifically moved it to the middle of the night, a custom which has no historical precedent, and which also makes “no sense whatsoever.” Fire- and lamp-lighting rituals are a thing one does when the sun is going down, not when it has been down for hours.
– Beginning at 1:20, he gives a completely erroneous account of the Tridentine liturgical reform. He repeatedly attributes to the Council of Trent actions which the Council itself did not take, and which it explicitly left to the Holy See. And he repeats the false idea, repeatedly debunked in primis by Fr Hunwicke, that Trent suppressed all of other Uses of the Roman Rite with a few exceptions. (He names the Ambrosian Rite and the Dominican Use.)
– At 2:20, he claims that “several years before Vatican II”, John XXIII “signaled” that the Roman Rite was not “fixed in concrete” by adding St Joseph’s name to the Canon of the Mass. In point of fact, the decree ordering this was issued on November 13, 1962, more than a month after Vatican II was opened, and became legally active on the following December 8. (AAS 1962, p. 873) This is a minor point, but highly indicative of how so much of our liturgical discourse is done these days, without even a cursory examination of the most basic sources, or command of the most basic historical facts.
(I cannot pretend to have read everything that John XXIII ever said or wrote, so I may be wrong about this, but I can find nothing in which he ever said that such was his intention in changing the Canon, and I think this interpretation of his action is highly tendentious. Angelo Roncalli was born and raised in a small town within the Roman Rite diocese of Bergamo, for which he was ordained a priest, but within walking distance of Ambrosian territory. He surely knew that the Ambrosian Canon varies both lists of Saints; in his time, the Ambrosian Rite was commonly (though wrongly) thought to be an archaic form of the Roman Rite, and this change may not have seemed like a particularly earthshaking thing to him.)
(Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)
From these statements, Mr Weigel somehow concludes that the idea of a “Mass of the Ages” is a fiction. He thus ignores the most basic fact about the Roman Rite, namely, that there is a very high degree of very obvious continuity which runs directly from its most ancient sources all the way through to the editions published in the reigns of Pius XII and John XXIII. And again, this continuity was savagely ruptured by the post-Conciliar reform, in countless ways that the signatories of Sacrosanctum Concilium did not even remotely dream of.
– At 3:20, Mr Weigel make a very interesting statement indeed, that he once asked a friend of his “what are these kids looking for in the Latin Mass celebrated according to the Extraordinary Form.” (Interesting that he didn’t ask, um, the kids themselves.) She said that “they are looking for the awe and wonder”, and he “think(s) that’s exactly right.” He goes on to say that “you can experience awe and wonder in a properly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass.”
But this begs the question by assuming that a “properly celebrated Novus Ordo Mass” is one that inspires awe and wonder. This is simply not true. There are plenty of options that any celebrant of the Novus Ordo can select at any time for any or no reason, options which have a long proven track record of more than 50 years of obliterating all sense that one is in the presence of something awesome and wonderful, and which are nonetheless perfectly licit, and therefore not improper by any objective standard. And of course, the post-Conciliar rite, unlike any other historical rite, was deliberately designed to be subject in this fashion to the will and whim and bright ideas of the celebrant and his chosen collaborators. This in turn, de facto if not de jure, strongly and unavoidably encourages any number of other practices which do not inspire awe and wonder.
For example
I readily confess my agreement with Mr Weigel on a point which he makes, and which almost no one is concerned to deny, that a worthy celebration of the Novus Ordo is possible. But sadly, he follows this up (4:15) with a repetition of the hoariest and most exhausted point that can be made on this topic, that the liturgy was often celebrated hurriedly and with bad music before Vatican II.
I do not expect him, or anyone else, to explain plausibly why, because the Roman Rite was badly celebrated in one or more particular places and times, so much of it needed to be destroyed, not sparing even its most ancient features (and this, again, in flat defiance of Sacrosanctum Concilium). Much less do I expect him to say whether the Novus Ordo, which is celebrated very badly in a great many places, and which has never been celebrated very well in more than a tiny minority of places, needs to be similarly destroyed.
However, I will say this: if this point is raised without reference to the massive destruction of Catholic institutions in Europe and Latin America in the age of the great revolutions, from which the Church was still recovering in 1962; if it is raised without reference to the specific conditions of Catholic immigrant populations in places like the United States and Australia; if it is raised without reference to the failure of the post-Conciliar Rite to produce any of what the first paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium said it wanted to come out of the reform, then it is being raised polemically, not seriously, and were better left not raised at all.

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